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How to tell is bassist is using fingers or pick

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by bluelineman, Dec 11, 2012.

  1. bluelineman


    Jan 15, 2012
    New guy here, switching over from the dark side. How can you tell if a bassist you are trying to play along with is using a pick or fingers? I know some guys exclusively use one or the other.
  2. Hamlet7768

    Hamlet7768 Here to chew gum and rock. Still have gum.

    Jun 5, 2011
    Usually you can look it up, or you can tell by the sound. Very generally speaking, basslines played with a pick have an inimitable crispness to them (though Geddy Lee's lines can sound picked at times), whereas fingerstyle doesn't really have that crispness. Some examples to compare (picked mostly for similarities, pick-user is first):

    Chris Squire to Geddy Lee

    Jason Newsted to Cliff Burton

    John Paul Jones to John Paul Jones (or more helpfully, Heartbreaker to Ramble On)
  3. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    It's not always easy to tell just by listening. I've been fooled before.
  4. Rev J

    Rev J

    Jun 14, 2012
    Berkeley, Ca.
    Interestingly part of the reason Geddy sometimes sounds like he's using a pick is because he is using his fingernails to get the attack and sometimes uses an up and down motion with just his index finger. Incidentally after watching his instructional video and reading interviews with him Chris Squire hits strings twice once with the pick and once with the side of his thumb for every attack which can soften attack slightly.

    Rev J
  5. PlungerModerno


    Apr 12, 2012
    There's no foolproof way AFAIK - and no real value in establishing it one way or the other as far as I can see.

    If you are looking for a specific tone or effect you can try both and see which works. The opposite to the original may work best for you!

    With effects and processing that you'll encounter in most live and recorded situations the precise tone hunt seems unproductive. Getting the best out of equipment you know well is time spent better IMO. :bassist:
  6. My clue is 'plunky' versus 'buttery'. If the notes sound like heavy objects dropping in water, it's usually plucked. If it sounds smooth and satiny, it's fingered.
  7. There are tones which are with a pick or with fingers, but in general you can pretty much get either sound with either. I'm listening to Dream Theater (under a glad moon right now) and although John Myung had the aggressive subs of a pick, there's a bouncy pumping sound that I identify with finger players like him or Steve Harris